Recommended reading: The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield. Although it was written in 1930, any woman who feels harried, ineffectual and even occasionally ridiculous, will find much to identify with – and laugh at – here. So in the spirit and style of the inimitable Delafield, I offer up a few highlights from the past week of my life. An affectionate homage . . . from a 21st century provincial lady.
June 12. – Sports Day once again. We arrive late and miss youngest daughter’s first and best event: hurdles. Daughter’s face is as thunderous and chilly as the weather. Discover that daughter has no other events until after lunch, so we meander around the fields, dodging dogs and engaging in conversation about the weather with various acquaintances. Universal consensus that weather is not as bad as last year, but not as nice as the year before that. Congratulate myself on getting clothes right: am wearing pastel linen, as a nod to June, with a trench coat for warmth. (End up not taking off trench coat for the entire day; might as well have worn jeans and a fleece.)
Feel intensely jealous of better-organized sorts who have brought flasks of coffee. Speak at length to woman with five children who has attended fifteen Sports Days in a row. Feel profoundly glad to have only two children. Feel intensely jealous of better-equipped sorts who have brought attractive deck chairs. Eat my hog roast sandwich and strawberries and cream standing up. Experience intense back ache by 4 pm – and more than six hours of continuous standing.
Commisserate with daughter, after humiliations at the high jump. Of course she feels herself to be the cynosure of every eye. Attempt to convince daughter that no one really notices or remembers these things. Cannot help but feel that sporty parents with equally sporty offspring derive more enjoyment from this sort of event. Decline to participate in Mother’s Race. Help clear up empty bottles (beer, wine and champagne) from the Leavers’ Tent and marvel at the English constitution. A couple of weak Pimm’s are enough to do me in.
Take two ibuprofen the minute I arrive home and fall asleep, fully clothed, at 6 pm. Later rouse myself to make some popcorn and watch South Pacific with youngest daughter. Am impressed, chiefly, by the smallness of Mitzi Gaynor’s waist. (Query: What happened to the small waist? Not just mine, but everyone’s?) Cannot help but think that the film was not nearly as good as I remembered. 1950s production values and acting style have aged badly.
Later in the week I learn, from walking partner, that many of the parents at the Sports Day attended a 50th birthday party in a Moroccan-style marquee later that evening. Listen, raptly, to descriptions of costumes – particularly the unsuccessful ones. (Agree that the post-40 bosom requires support.) Marvel again at the superior English constitution.
June 14. – Visit senior school in Oxford with youngest daughter. (After Sports Day, youngest daughter gets a three-day break from school.) Ponder the conundrum of private education. Realize that neither child has attended a full week of school since mid-March. Consider that oldest daughter, who is on study leave for her GCSE exams, sports the tan of a person who lives in the Caribbean.
Accompanied by two impossibly gorgeous and self-confident 13 year olds, we view the playing fields, science classrooms, art studios and theatre of the school in Oxford. Admire the large Wind in the Willows themed mural in the dining hall. (Remember that Kenneth Grahame is alum of the school.) Wonder aloud if youngest child will go in for rowing. Youngest child expresses doubts as to the likelihood of this event. (Query: Why is that all school tours consist of the same constituent parts, and yet leave such different impressions?)
After school tour, youngest daughter and I – weak with hunger – walk to Mamma Mia pizza place. Feel most keenly that pizza place in walking distance of school is huge asset. Youngest daughter wants to attend school in Oxford. Feel most keenly that entire family should move to Oxford.
June 15. – Oldest daughter finishes Greek exam by 10 am and needs to be picked up from school. Youngest daughter cannot rest easy until we visit the pet store and purchase some hamsters. Remainder of day occupied by visitations to various pet emporiums.
Mem: parental weakening on pet issue can quickly lead to full-scale capitulation. On Saturday, oldest daughter wins a goldfish from some carnival game at the Marlow Regatta. Permission to bring home goldfish is grudgingly granted. According to some complicated sibling equation, youngest daughter requires hamsters in order to square up the laws of fairness. Mother is final arbiter of fairness; justice must be served. Weak mother is worn down after 48 hours of dedicated pleading and nagging.
Visit to pet shop involves significant expenditure. Internet research has not accounted for items like toys and special snacks. Purchase of hamsters requires visit to aquarium. Single fish is lonely; more fish are required. Also, plants. Unexpected expenditure incurred. Husband not informed of expanding pet menagerie. Children remind mother that fish, hamsters, chickens and a cat don’t really count. Only dogs, which are still denied to children, are proper pets.
June 16. – Email from husband, which didn’t look important, turns out to be invitation to opera.
Apparently we are last-minute guests for corporate entertainment with company that husband does no business with. Would have been prudent to Google company and attempt to learn something about hosts. Instead, spend morning driving children (and camping paraphernalia) around Berkshire countryside. Husband arrives home at 3 pm to find undressed wife, who is shaving her legs and wondering why she is not a person who keeps an up-to-date pedicure. Cocktails begin at 4 pm in Hampshire. Feel dismay at lack of appropriate opera wardrobe; finally resort to silk blouse, old skirt and ubiquitous pashmina.
Marvel at Russian, Korean, French, Greek and Norwegian fellow guests – all of whom speak perfect English. Despite the lack of language barrier, though, conversation is predictably stilted. Having dispatched the topic of the weather, I attempt to engage a French woman in conversation about differences between English and French culture. Although French woman’s children have spent their entire lives in London, apparently they are inviolably French. Suspect that I have managed to inadvertently insult French woman. Resolve to stick to weather in future conversations with corporate wives. Also manage to disagree on opera – which has a preposterous plot, something to do with three oranges. Husband and I enjoy dissecting guests on long drive home; suspect that one man has rented partner for the night.
June 17. – Endure yet another school visit with youngest daughter. Although she assures me that “there is less than a one percent chance” that she will want to attend this school, we sacrifice the better part of a day in the pursuit of thoroughness. Arrive at school having not received the letter that prospective students should wear their own clothes. Name tag is misspelled. None of this bodes well. Return to school late, having been lost in the town’s one-way system. (Miss tea and cake; do not miss making polite conversation with other prospective parents.) Sat-nav proves bloody useless; only find school, in the end, by doing the opposite to what the sat-nav suggests. Feel sure that inability to find school is a sign.
Oldest daughter’s 16th birthday. Oldest daughter thrilled that no GCSE exams fall on her birthday. Oldest daughter thrilled to be left home alone with friend-who-is–a-boy.
The birthday girl has requested chicken pot pie and red velvet cake for her birthday meal. Reflect that it would have been better to start labour-intensive birthday meal before 6 pm. Unsurprisingly, we do not manage to eat before 9 pm. Husband opens bottle of champagne. Newly christened 16-year-old quaffs champagne like an old pro, which raises questions in the maternal mind. Cannot help but remember the hot day in June when oldest daughter came into the world. Reflect that sixteen years is a long time -- which has suddenly gone by very quickly.